Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Going up Front on the Wunda Chair – advanced variation with arabesque

Welcome to another installment of one of my favorite series: Pilates Projects.

In the Pilates method, the mastery of a complex exercise can require strategy.

What luck!

We’ve got a whole system of perfect tools for the job.

This time I kick it Romana-style with a Pilates-Projects-we-only-have-one-exercise spin:

If Going Up Front – Joe Pilates style – is not exciting enough for you, press on to the balance on the top of the Wunda Chair that I learned via Romana.

Although Romana Kryzanowska gives us this cadenza, it emerges out of a Joe Pilates staple: a challenging foundational exercise on the High Chair now turned into a 3-act play on the Wunda Chair.

Get ready, cause this one's a doozy.

Read with caution: this blog post might just kill you me.

For me this exercise is super hard and crazy, a balance exercise to defy my imbalances. I chose it specifically for a big challenge and for my own amusement.

I do hope you'll play along.

The Plan:

For each movement of the Going up Front arabesque sequence I've chosen a meat-and-potatoes Pilates exercise to help me get my powerhouse in order.

I'll focus on what I can do efficiently and with confidence rather than lament why my leg can't go very high, why I may fall off the Chair…etc…

Pilates is positive, right? It's up and forward.

Here. We. Go.

I found it very useful to have a “walk thru” of this one standing on the floor sans Chair. Too much thinky-thinky and I could fall to my death…so please embrace the value of a little rehearsal…

Going Up Front

  • One foot on top of the chair and the ball of the other foot on the pedal.
  • Pull the pedal up and down 2 times. Arms are reaching forward.
  • The 3rd time up you'll arrive on top of the chair to balance on one leg.
  • Bend your standing leg and reach further behind you with the other.
  • Bring your leg to the side, then to the front, bringing arms overhead.
  • Bend the free leg and bring your toe to your knee.
  • Rise up onto the ball of your foot.
  • Lower the heel and reach the leg further behind you, bending your standing leg.
  • Replace your foot onto the pedal and push it down.
  • Repeat on the other leg.

Ready for the first moment? I found a Reformer exercise that's a great set up.

Control Balance on the Reformer

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Once your foot leaves the pedal of the Wunda Chair you are in exactly the same position as you are in for the landing of Control Balance on the Reformer.

Except NOW you are on top of the Chair.

Even more reason to stand up strong in your powerhouse!

Tinkerbell on Crack

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Your first move after arrival is to bend the standing leg and reach further into your arabesque (bear with me on the fancy words). This is very reminiscent of the Kneeling Knee Stretch one-leg variation called Tinkerbell.

True, your foot is not reaching up toward your head as in the ultimate version of Tinkerbell (please!) but it is reaching long and away with the standing leg bent a la Knee Stretches.

Tendon Stretch – One Leg – Back to Side Variation

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

I know, this one's so easy to pull out of your ass…

Straighten and stand strong on your leg as you bring your leg from the back to the side. You'll need the same muscles and powerhouse you use in the challenging Back to Side variation of the Tendon Stretch.

Hey, look on the bright side: you might be perched atop the Wunda, but here's a help from that old beastie the Tendon Stretch.

Seize the day!

Tree

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Yes, why not?

The Tree is an amazingly useful exercise for all things one-sided. Reach your standing leg into your imaginary straps (like on the Reformer) and lift your back and stomach as you bring your leg from side to front.

Oh yeah, and remember the goal of this balance sequence.

Can you reach your leg to be a teensy bit higher as you come from back to side?

A smidge higher as you go from side to front?

Trust me, the Tree will help.

2×4 Exercise – One Leg (Tendon Stretch)

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Strike a pose as you bring the foot of your outstretched leg to the knee of your standing leg (call it passé if you must) and rise up to the ball of the foot (relevé) on your standing leg.

Push down into the Wunda Chair and pretend it is the 2×4 exercise.

No biggie, right?

And get ready for one more fancy part before we get to do the other side!

Tinkerbell on Crack²

It's hard, yo, be happy you get another crack at it. Aargh…see how I did that?

Now you'll reach strongly behind you for another Kneeling Knee stretch-esque Tinkerbell. It will help you to lower your foot (finally!) and find the pedal.

Wait. It's not over until it's over.

Back on your 2 legs now, lift yourself tall to control the pedal down.

Whew!

I'm gonna trust you'll do both sides.

Prepare yourself

Be safe, kids. Bring a friend for this one for a boost of balance confidence.

Not Junghee Won.

She'll step back and cross her arms: “I'm not gonna catch you.”

Although that is very motivating to not fall off…

“Why bother? It's so hard and I'm not a dancer.”

I have imbalances and this is a hard exercise for me. But let's see – it's been a few years really since I worked consistently on this variation – anything can happen right?

Consistent practice of the Pilates Method = Something wretched gets better.

Not Romana-doing-the-Star (:42) better, but more hey-that-was-okay better.

A Pilates check-in if you will.

Maybe even your Mat exercises will get better!

#pilatespremise

You don't have to be a dancer.

Just do all of these Pilates helper exercises in sequence and you'll look like a dancer.

Well, you'll feel like one. And that's the most important part.

Invincible, remember?

Invigorated!

This is the spirit part of Pilates. Arriba!

Round 1: A bit of a crash and burn…

Well…

I think I need a Pilates Project to help me work on this Pilates Project…

And yes, the helper exercises are doing just that.

I sure do need the help + a healthy side dish of repetition-is the-mother-of-all-learning.

Let's add this after each workout and see what happens in a couple weeks…

Round 2: Several… weeks… later…

How about a little more of that dress rehearsal on the ground?

Build confidence. Find your muscles.

Focus your gaze and breathe.

Now.

Onto the Wunda.

Round 3: Karen Frischmann in the house!

Working on this exercise after my lesson at Vintage, Karen Frischmann had a few suggestions to further strengthen my center for the balance challenge.

Oooh and they all work so well! #karenisthebomb

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit EditionPediPull

Really anything with the arms here. Circles, Centering…

To get the connection of the arms into the center…which I dearly need to ensure I don't take a tumble. #springssohelpful

The center of the Pilates universe? The upper stomach.

A similar exercise on the Pedipull – but kind of in reverse – is the balance on 1 leg taking the other leg front, side and then back…surely this is an awesome helper exercise.

Plus you've got springs!

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit EditionCadillac

The standing single leg springs: not a surprise I left these out.

I cannot be trusted.

I have just started to be able to do them without falling over. This one is most useful for our purposes here: the leg to the back.

Super challenging.

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit EditionWunda Chair

There's a tiny moment on the way to the passé (where your foot will come to be placed at the knee of the standing leg) that can be helped by Going up Side.

Just the thought of Going Up Side gets me more connected to my seat at this particular moment in the balance.

Right when I'm sort of anticipating the ending and I need a little boost.

Perfect!

Reformer

Believe it or not, the passé position is reminiscent of the leg position of the Snake/Twist exercise.  So I'm looking forward to trying that one out too.

You've come a long way, Baby, to use Snake/Twist as a helper exercise.

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Well it has been a wild roller coaster of a ride working on this exercise.

I hope you'll enjoy the short video. My client Gail joins me.

She loves this exercise. She's quite amazing. Gail has a great ability to recover her balance even if she has a bit of a bobble. Alas, I cannot always say the same for myself…

It's hard, yo.

Please know that this is captures just one moment on the journey of working on this challenging version of Going Up Front.

Got an idea for a helper exercise?

Share it in a comment below!

The Path to Mastery

The Path to MasteryRecently I picked up a book recommended by Pat Flynn, my favorite internet business and marketing aficionado.

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard is a wonderful read.

Leonard, a longtime practitioner and teacher of aikido, examines the various paths to mastery via the study of a martial art. He defines mastery as “the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice.”

It brings rich rewards, yet is not really a goal or a destination but rather a process, a journey. We call this journey mastery.

The path to mastery, Leonard asserts, “is available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it,” though they must battle against our quick-fix, instant gratification society for survival.

And in true nerd fashion, my fancy turned to thoughts of…wait for it…

the Pilates Method!

The words ‘mastery' and ‘master teacher' continue to dot the Pilates landscape.

But what defines a master?

Proximity to the source? Decades of study and experience? Increased market share?

What does it mean to aspire to mastery of the Pilates Method?

It is my belief as well that the true essence of mastery is in the doing rather than the arriving.

Any art form, martial art or physical practice develops over time. Skills are acquired, practiced and perfected. Layers of nuance and expression are slowly uncovered.

Veteran teachers continue to learn the work and perfect their craft over decades. They admittedly learn something new every day. There is no end point.

Jay Grimes describes the pursuit of Pilates:

Pilates is an endless journey. It can be a wonderful journey but it never ends.

It was Junghee Won who first described the Pilates Method as more akin to a martial art than to traditional exercise. In both disciplines one cultivates the skills of the exercises as a foundation perfected year after year in countless – nearly endless – variation. Mental and physical discipline are a requirement. Focus is imperative.

Jay also counsels the Pilates neophyte:

Forget everything you know about exercise. Pilates is different.

The Love of the Eternal Now

The path to mastery demands you make your peace with being on a plateau. If your practice is diligent, you will spend a good deal of your time there. There will of course be thrilling, heady moments in between when you have a surge of learning, followed again by a new, albeit different looking plateau.

Goals are important. But they exist in the future and the past…Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. 

Take comfort in your continued practice as another level of understanding, another spike in your proficiency may be right around the corner.

The Path to Mastery

In Pilates, we routinely practice our series of exercises, plus additional exercises we add to address specific needs. Often we finish our workout with invigorating exercises that challenge and inspire us on our journey. These are the mainstays of our Pilates practice.

And then one day The Flying Squirrel appears. You do your best, learn a little bit more each time you visit…and then back to your practice vowing one day to return to our Flying Friend.

On the path to mastery every day may not be the Flying Squirrel. It may very well be about doing the Footwork on the Reformer as perfectly as you can today. I suspect there will be lots of Footwork on the plateau. Probably the Rowing Series too.

Getting on the Path

In his book, Leonard outlines 5 Key points to “open the door to mastery.” They correspond quite nicely to our particular Pilates path.

1. Instruction

“The search for good instruction starts with a look at credentials and lineage. Who was your teacher's teacher? Who was that teacher's teacher?”

Lineage.

Uh-oh. That's a big word. More on this delicate subject in a future post.

2. Practice

“At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.”

Of course, right? Your Pilates practice will be by your side always, a trusted friend. You own your workout and your own well being.

3. Surrender

(My favorite)

“The courage of a master is measured by his or her willingness to surrender…surrendering to your teacher and to the demands of your discipline. It also means surrendering your own hard-won proficiency from time to time in order to reach a higher or different level of proficiency.”

This one is tricky. True learners are not content with yesterday's experience of an exercise. The body is ever changing and the work changes as well. Let's nickname this one:

The Path to Mastery

Perfect.

4. Intentionality

“Character, willpower, attitude, imaging, the mental game, intentionality…however you look at it…is an essential to take along on the master's journey.”

The Pilates word for this is willpowerYou must set yourself to the task at hand. New habits are not easy to implement. That's how they came to be called habits in the first place. You must envision the change and will yourself to execute it. Those super challenging exercises are not simply going to happen to you…you've got to want to do them.

Hello, Snake/Twist…:)

5. The Edge

The fine art of playing the edge…involves a willingness to take one step back for every two forward, sometimes vice versa. It also demands a determination to keep pushing, but not without awareness.

Let's call this the Pilates version of ‘pushing the envelope'. Using your will, your practice, your surrender to work safely to the very edges of your proficiency. You've got the tools to challenge yourself to do an exercise that takes all you've got and that previously you found unattainable.

It is your hard-won skills, the fruits of your labors that will navigate you through the Flying Squirrel.

To be a learner you've got to be willing to be a fool.

Ultimately to be on the path to mastery you must continually be an 'empty vessel' in search of new valuable skills, ideas and experiences to feast upon.

In this way we become a perennial beginner and look on the familiar with an eye toward greater depth and clarity.

You may find yourself learning an exercise all over again in a wonderful new way. Recently, the Tower on the Cadillac and Semi-Circle on the Reformer reinvented themselves. I love what they've turned into.

Share a moment on your own path to mastery when you had to tackle an old exercise in a radical new way.

C'mon, you know I love this stuff. 

NYC for Bust!

NYC For Bust!In the fall of 2004 I relocated to San Diego, California. I was fortunate to have a former coworker/friend, Jill, who had also relocated from Washington, DC the year prior. I know, right? Jill was amazingly instrumental in helping me secure employment at several studios and an upscale gym in LaJolla. Thank you, Jill! Working together one day I happened to overhear one of her clients do a bit of name dropping. My jaw nearly fell on the floor at the name she dropped:

Joe Pilates!

(FYI, eavesdropping gives me a huge rush.)

Feverishly I resisted the urge to run across the Pilates studio to get more details. Jill’s client Carole grew up in 1950‘s Manhattan, between 74th and 75th Streets on Central Park West, less than 10 blocks from Lincoln Center.  Her father was a longtime client of “Joe the Stretcher.” It was at this point in the conversation that my eyes fell out of my head.

What???!! Yes, “Joe the Stretcher” is the nickname that Carole and her sister secretly bestowed on Joe Pilates.

Oh, I am just getting started…

Fast-forward to 2005: Jill was changing careers and she encouraged her clients to have sessions with me. Boy oh boy was I ready to get my hands on Carole. I wanted her to tell me stories of her family and “Joe the Stretcher” over and over again. Oh yeah, we’d do some Pilates, but what’s the skinny now? Lay it on me.

Perhaps one of the most iconic items from Joe Pilates’ original 8th Avenue studio is the bronze bust of the man himself, pictured in the background of this photo.

Tiny tangent: The gentleman perched atop Joe Pilates is Robert Wernick, author of the 1962 Sports Illustrated article about Pilates and his method, “To Keep in Shape: Act Like an Animal.” Wernick, himself a client of Joe’s and now in his nineties, faithfully completes his morning Pilates exercises to this day. More on Mr. Wernick and those tiny black shorts in a later post…

The Pilates world is replete with accounts of Joe’s character and temperament. He is described as mercurial and arrogant. He had a high opinion of himself, his strong physique and his method. One might assume that he himself would wish to capture his likeness in bronze and secure his place in history.

Carole’s father Daniel was born in 1898 and eventually came to develop Parkinson’s Disease. Although he was not aware at the time, Carole speculates that her father’s health condition may have been the impetus for his relationship with Joe.  Both of her parents were also avid enthusiasts of ballroom dancing: taking classes, watching many ballroom dancing events, even to the point of asking their children to practice with them by dancing at home. As a teenager, Carole remembers being mortified by ballroom dancing with her grandfather outside on the sidewalk!

Carole’s family home bore all the evidence of her Dad’s commitment to Joe’s method. In one room a heavy metal bar hung across a door frame for stretching. The Spine Corrector was in another room tucked against the wall. Most incriminatingly, Carole remembers her Dad wearing the tiny dark stretch pants (a la Joe, pictured above) when he did his exercises. Therefore earning Joe Pilates the moniker “Joe the stretcher” from the peanut gallery.

Daniel commissioned American sculptor John R. Terken to create a bronze bust of the family’s beloved Rabbi Louis I. Newman. The sculpture was dedicated to Congregation Rodeph Shalom, the family synagogue in 1959. To this day the bust remains in the lobby of the synagogue at 7 West 83rd Street in Manhattan. A considerable amount of bronze remained after the crafting so “naturally,” according to Carole, her Dad decided to ask Joe if a bronze bust of Joe could also be made. I imagine he must have been thrilled! Obviously Joe acquiesced because the bust has been in the Pilates studio ever since.

Sharing Carole’s story galvanized me to visit a few sites in Manhattan on a mini “Joe Pilates NYC Historical Tour”. And I was off!

NYC. For. Bust.

Since the time the Bust resided in Joe Pilates original 8th Avenue studio at 939 8th Avenue, the Pilates Studio, Inc. has had multiple owners and locations. My friend Junghee Won, a longtime student of Romana Kryzanowska, accompanied me on this Pilates history quest. She worked at the Pilates Studio at 2121 Broadway where the Bust lived for most of the 1990s. The Bust of Joe was located just as you exited the elevator and entered the studio. The instructors would often greet Joe with a “hello” or “goodbye” pat on the head each day.

One phone call quickly tracked down the Bust at its current home: 311 West 43rd Street.

Located on the 4th floor we were now getting closer…Thank you so much to the lovely people there, including Sean Gallagher, who let us snap photos, ask questions and generally be HUGE Pilates geeks.
 
In the vintage Robert Wernick photo the bust is au natural, however, when I arrived at the studio, the bust had been discreetly clothed in an appropriate Pilates t-shirt.

Clara would be so proud.

OMG here it (he) is!

At the base of the sculpture is a plaque: “Joseph H. Pilates Founder of the Science of Contrology at the age of 60”

Now I had to have a shot of the 2 of us of course 🙂 He’s a pretty big dude, huh?

Bye, Joe! Next time, let’s see some skin 🙂

Check out my friend Kerry DeVivo‘s photos of Joe on a subsequent visit!

Subscribe to receive a Special Bonus Blogpost
How to Fall in Love with the Exercises you Hate
We respect your privacy and never share your information.